Sunday, 9 February 2020

Ringwood #Unitarians - Feb 2020 - Sixth anniversary service reflects on the weave of personal journeys into community with purpose

This was the gathering on the sixth anniversary of the founding of this group so we held the annual roll call.  The gathering wove together themes of community and personal journey, in which the readings were about communities, in various ways; with the reflections of the president for the day being about personal journey.
Some poetic words by Frank R. Clabburn opened the gathering and the first reading was a tale by Aesop as retold by Bill Darlison - reminding us that a bundle of sticks is stronger than individual sticks.  And by implication, people together are stronger than each of an isolated group of individuals.
We then carried out our little, silent ceremony, in which we share a candle flame, a piece of bread to eat, and water to drink, all in silence, without insisting on any specific meaning —except that the circle in which we sit is explicitly important to our gathering.

Naming, Knowing, Listening, Loving
We took a time of naming: being thankful today for the community that we have become over six years and how it has weathered so far; for the opportunities ahead, and how we can contribute; thankful also for being able to link across time with the Unitarians who had gathered in the Meeting House since the eighteenth century, and link across time with contemporary Unitarians and others who had provided some of the material we heard today.
The second reading was from Sailing the Worldly Winds by Vajragupta and it reported on some recent research that showed that — rather disappointingly — happiness seems to be determined by comparison against others.  A cautionary note about how we look at ourselves and others.

The third reading was from We Are One by Simenon HonorĂ© and in it we heard a new word that had been coined by Milovan Djilas, a former leading Communist in Yugoslavia: Djilas suggested we need to think of humans as being not perfect or imperfect; but rather, as unperfect.
Djilas suggested that Utopianism insists on perfecting society, and can create a great deal of human suffering in an attempt to attain this impossible aim.  Better that we give ourselves permission to be unperfect, to make mistakes and to take responsibility for them.
Then we took some time for prayer and reflection.  In that time we aimed at some knowing: we each reflected on what a community of people — of spiritual explorers — is for; and how each of us as persons might fit within this community.  At this point the roll call was taken so that we know who is included in our community during the next twelve months.
As a segue to our meditation time, aimed at being a time for listeningwe heard some words by Tony McNeile.  After our silence we lit tea light candles as we spoke of our recent concerns and joys, after which we chanted to a music by David Kent: Do what most kindles love in you, representing our engagement with loving.

Reflections of the day
Our president for the day noted that culturally our society is still visibly rooted in Christianity, and that it may be all very well and good throwing out the big idea of Christianity — that God and human can be one, were in fact one, uniquely so, in Jesus — but then where and what is the new big idea to replace it with?

She suggested that Unitarians long ago threw out the last part, about the uniqueness of Jesus, but are still contemplating oneness.  Unitarians are about oneness; and many Unitarians would still be content to affirm that a person is a nexus between the concrete world and the eternal realm.

The president spoke of her own journey of “there and back again”: away from her childhood home of traditional Anglican Church doctrine and practice, into what for her was a long wilderness of happy, adventuring aloneness; and back again, but back to a new home; a home in the Unitarian movement.  Of how she had studied other wisdoms along the way, and found them very satisfying, especially some of the Hindu teachings.

All this is full.  All that is full.
From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains.
Isha Upanishad

Our president quoted another regional Unitarian, who has recently said:

“For me there is the rigour of asking myself is what I’m saying true; true to shared experience, true to the constellation of other things I hold, true to the yearning of my heart?  I can talk in the language of different traditions but accept that there is a cultural and historical prominence of one in my life and in my part of the world.”

But the “there and back again” of her journey, said the president, meant that although she would not expect ever to belong to a Christian church again, she does go home to some ideas of Christianity, which means that she is able to visit Christian churches and worship there, and happily talk with Christians about faith and how to make it live.

Among the ideas that our president said she retains are these (with traditional Christian references indicated thus):

That there is at one and the same time both ‘oneness’ and ‘relatedness’ at the core of ‘all that is’ and in the ground of truth on which ‘all that is’ is constructed.
(The Holy Trinity)
That, in the round, everything is all alright — our mis-steps are catered for in the universe — and we are wanted in the universe or we wouldn’t be here.
(We are loved, and loved unconditionally, by God. God has dealt with the dread consequences of our sin.)
That all human persons are equally wanted and the mercy and justice of God works through the body of divine humanity — us — so we need to work for equality and justice.
(The mercy and justice of God works through the body of Christ.)
That the human person straddles the concrete world and the eternal realm, and the Christ archetype is the logos of the human person.
(Reserved in Christianity to Jesus the Christ, uniquely.)
That interior work is needed if justice and well-being is to be secured for all.
(Keep the Commandments and follow the teachings and example of Jesus; narrow is the way.)
That the most important interior work is to learn to love what irritates or persecutes us, as by doing this we can transform the barriers, isolation and stuckness of ‘twoness’ into the wholeness of ‘oneness’.
(Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.)
That there is always the possibility of change for the better, if only we take the first step and turn.
(The new covenant of repentance and forgiveness, fulfilled in Jesus the Christ.)
That at least one person — Jesus — has demonstrated that it is possible to be so trusting of life that it is possible to make, and gain fulfilment from, the ultimate sacrifice, without losing that trust in life.
(Jesus’ crucifixion)


After a chant from the Northern Cheyenne Nation, for pow-wows and inter-tribal dances of welcome, the gathering closed with the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, and a hymn from the green hymn book.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Individuals and Community; Journeying and Homecoming - gathering for reverence by #Unitarians in Ringwood and their friends on Sunday 9 Feb 2020 in Ringwood Meeting House starting at 10am

The next gathering for reverence of Unitarians in Ringwood, and friends, will be on Sunday 9 February, arriving around 9.45 a.m. for a 10 a.m. start, in the Ringwood Meeting House on Meeting House Lane, BH24 1EY.  The gathering will be led by Lucy.

Car parking is opposite (fees apply); and the Meeting House is also opposite a set of bus stops served by X3 buses from Bournemouth and Salisbury, as well as local buses.

We welcome first time visitors, as well as those who have been coming before.  Children's activities available.

This gathering is our sixth birthday and we will be looking forward to our seventh year together.  The topic will be "Individuals and Community; Journeying and Homecoming".  Come as you are, exactly as you are; and expect to be have been changed by the time you leave.

As part of this gathering, people will be invited to consider their relationship with this group and to take part in the annual roll call.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Why the Wise Men maybe weren't so wise after all - #Unitarian gathering in Ringwood 12 Jan 2020

The topic for our gathering today made a last reference to the Christmas season, and looked at the journey of the Wise Men - a journey, a search and maybe even a discovery.  As well as music, plenty of silence, and our usual simple ritual, we heard an interesting reflection on the story of the Magi from our president for the day, Rev Martin Whitell.  What follows is taken from his address.


To our taste, there is perhaps too much talk in some religions about having found the truth rather than living in and enjoying the unfolding of the discovery. This is, perhaps, the most helpful piece of the story of the Magi or the Wise Men. Not their gifts, nor their encounter with King Herod, nor even their arrival at the place where the young child was, but their quest for meaning from the star that led them on.

One of our readings was the poem by T. S. Eliot The Journey of the Magi, a powerful piece that imagines the words of one of the Magi many years later, as he reflected on his journey long ago and his discomfort back in the land of his birth, ever since.

In it there is a strange phrase:
“…so we continued and arrived at evening, not a moment too soon.
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.”

T. S. Eliot wasn’t talking about the accommodation where Mary and Joseph were staying, in Matthew’s interesting story.  What he was talking about as satisfactory was the whole story, the journey, the difficulties, the unexpected result, the risks, the outcomes.  The whole adventure had taken them to what they hoped was going to be a new life; but they ended up going back home.  Having been inspired by the star and the journey they are now in a kind of half-light, an in-between place.  Not comfortable in the old place, but not able to repeat the journey to the new promise they had once glimpsed.

The late Dr John M. Hull, once Professor of Practical Theology at The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham said of the Magi:
“To use the anthropological expression, they had been thrown into a liminality from which they had not been able to emerge.”

To be liminal is to be at the limits, on the borders, to be marginal.  The theological word with a rather similar meaning is ‘limbo’, the place which is neither heaven, nor earth, nor hell, nor purgatory, an in-between sort of place. Anthropologists, tell us that the role of the sacred is to create liminality, whether through ritual and ceremony, festivals, rites of passage, or sacred dance; somewhere where the ordinary rules and standards of life no longer apply. A place where rational judgement is suspended, where the unexpected strikes us with surprise, and we become at once rootless, disorientated, homeless and liberated.

Of course the Magi wanted to do it all again, to try to get something at least clear in their heads, even if it meant a death, or a birth as hard as death. To catch the wonder of the journey once more. But such a resolution was nothing but a wish, a dream.  

I suggest that we must realise that the sacred is not a place to remain in — no matter what it is nor whenever it comes to us.

Eliot warns us that their experience of the sacred had fixed and frozen them — not liberated them. Liminality only transforms through contrast. The sacred must meet the secular. If it becomes habitual, it goes stale.  The point of liminality and the sacred is not to stay there. It is both to go back and work and to move on and discover more.

There are wonderful religious experiences which can be life changing.  These may be people we meet, or things we see, or places we go to; it may be something like our candlelit carol service, or deeply spiritual moments we cannot explain.  But we have to learn to take it on further, even as we take it home.

We should beware, and turn away from the staleness of religious lives of the Magi who never put their experience of being at the edge, liminality, the sacred to work.

The delights of our faith must drive us to making it all real for our world.  Helping the poor and the troubled, the sick and the sad, the lonely and the unloved. 

The anonymous poem Epiphany puts it like this: 
The wizard kings observed celestial signs 
a moving eastern star especially bright
cast shadows in the pitchest dark of night
a hint enough to agitate their minds 
And, journeying through a sleeping world, they found 
a manger pin-pricked by a point of heaven…..
Light shines, unbidden, shows the way. 
We see new truth, new light, new life - Epiphany.

True religion is not actually about finding perfect peace or intellectual certainty: it is about discovering the pin-prick of light which agitates our minds into thought and enquiry, and the quest for new truth, new light and new life.  In contrast with the traditional reading of it, let us paraphrase a verse of the Bible, Revelation chp 21 v 5:

“It is we who must make all things new.”